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  • Chinatown Mud
  • Gregory Rossi (bio)

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Figure 1.

[End Page 30]

Snow fell on New Year's this year, in Chinatown, where it matters. It snowed all over Chicago, but in early February it was only New Year's in Chinatown. And when the next thaw happened in March, it left gobs of soggy firecracker wrappings all over the streets and sidewalks—spitballs forming a wet cushion of Chinatown mud. I bet some Chinese guy was happy with the New Year's snow, saw it as a sign of luck. They always see something as either a sign of luck or a curse.

I know about Chinatown mud because my ma uses the post office on Wentworth instead of the one over by the Stock Yards. We're from Bridgeport. You have to tell people [End Page 31] that as soon as possible, Chicago's just that way. Anyway, my ma doesn't drive, so every Tuesday I take a couple hours away from my house-painting business and take her over to Chinatown because she's always mailing a package or needing to buy a book of stamps for letters. The post office is at the south end of Wentworth, a couple of blocks before it passes over the Stevenson Expressway and turns into Bridgeport. From the post office we can see the north end of Wentworth, with those archways and Chinese roofs.

So in March, right after Chicago's big thaw, I stand on the sidewalk in front, waiting for my ma, who's inside. And this woman, she's beautiful, comes up and asks me to help her lift a box from the trunk of her car. She wants me to bring it inside the post office, so I walk over to her car. Then, just as the trunk lid opens, there her hand is, waving a Handi-Wipe in my face. She wants me to clean myself first.

I stare her down for a second, thinking, "What the—"

Then I smile, getting it, and wipe the back of my hand with two fingers. "It's paint, dried, won't come off until later."

"Oh," she apologizes. She drives a Jetta, not a Jap car. And she dresses cool, too. Before I lift the box, I fish a card from my pocket and give it to her to show that I'm not some grunt. Kean & Clean, it reads, J. D. Kean owner, Interior and Exterior Decorating, phone 312-555-KEAN.

"That's me. J. D.," I say; then I pick up the box and carry it in.

When I get inside I hear, "There's your boy," from Imogene behind the counter. She's the clerk my ma will wait an extra turn in line to get.

"Hey, Genie." I smile and set the box on the counter. "This is for this woman."

Imogene nods at me with her eyes wide open and the ends of her mouth tugging down hard in a smirk.

"You're all set, ma'am," I say smiling, knowing I never say "ma'am."

"Thank you," she says, with a tiny accent, and hands me her card. Realty USA, hers reads, Elizabeth Chiu, and it has some markings on it, in Chinese. "What's this?" I ask.

"The same information in Chinese."

"Is your name Elizabeth in Chinese?" [End Page 32]

"No, it is not," she says.

So I just nod my head and say, "Nice to meet you, Elizabeth."

She sticks out her hand. I look at mine, with the paint on it. She smiles. After we shake hands I am careful not to put her card with mine in my wallet and into my back pocket, because once I heard that it's an insult to Oriental businessmen to do so. It's as if you are putting them next to your ass and sitting on them and crushing them. I avoid any potential insult and let the card dangle from my fingers as my mom finishes up and we say good-bye to Genie.

* * *

After dropping my mom off, I stop back at the job site briefly and find Tommy, my foreman...


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